Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines Retrospective, Part One

As part of the S.EXE editorial series that "explores sex and relationship games", Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Cara Ellison has turned her attention toward Troika's Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines for a multi-part retrospective feature. Part one takes a closer look at the game's use of sexuality and its weight toward scantily-clad females rather than males:

But as I say, VTMB is gutsy, in that it embraces the fang metaphor, the penetrative act it wholeheartedly embraces an erotic overtone in a way that makes you aware that games tend to actively avoid such material. Sucking blood to raise your '˜humanity' levels is described as an ecstasy, and my character (my chosen vampire race a '˜Toreador' artistic vampires who can seduce and mesmerise) couches all encounters with victims in curling, flirty sentences. The act of sucking someone's blood is dramatic and seems personal as the light fades on everything but you and the victim, and their lifeblood bar goes down in rhythmic heartbeats.

What the game doesn't do is make people who are attracted to men feel like they can indulge themselves. I feel like it's even a bit freaked out by the idea of the player thinking men can be sexy; such is the arena of big budget games. So instead, we just get scantily dressed alternative chicks hanging out in Bloodlines' bars with incredibly pneumatic-looking tits for you to stare at, whilst you can barely make out an ass on some of the male character models. I'm not against people being sexy I mean, if some people are sexy, they are sexy, right? If it fits the character, yeah, right on. But it's noticeably weighted towards teen boy fantasy in a way that is sort of cute. It seems a bit jarring considering Anne Rice's bisexual vampires revived the pop culture vampire singlehandedly in the eighties. And Troika borrows some of her stuff wholeheartedly: the scoffing about garlic and other vampire superstitions, the gung ho rockstar attitudes of the vampires, the mixing in of pop music, the idea that vampires might have a duty to kill criminals, or possess a morality, a pained existentialism. All things that Buffy also cribbed.

However, what rescues VTMB from my sighs of '˜maybe we should have more diversity in the presentation of bodies here' is the writing. This RPG's dialogue is extremely strong: usually RPGs have sighworthy writing you press to skip as much as you can so you can get more upgrades, but VTMB's dialogue consistently sparks and charms, making you loathe to miss anything. When characters describe other characters in this game there's a real sense of conflict, like they might actually have real agendas, actual politics. You even try to second guess people. You are scared they might be lying in a way that makes you paranoid. And sometimes. they are lying. Sexy bastards. Sexy, terrifying bastards.